Monday, December 15, 2008

Dysfunctional couples, like the pair in 'Cat Dancers,' Ron and Joy Holiday

In the new HBO documentary "Cat Dancers," we see animal trainers Ron and Joy Holiday talking baby talk to white tigers and planting kisses on the noses of leopard and jaguars.

Chuck Lizza (left) was a late addition to the collective "Cat Dancers" love affair, which included Joy and Ron Holiday and their stable of exotic cats.
The Holidays loved their exotic cats, but their outsized affection for their animals was nothing compared to their love for each other. A love that was big enough to include Chuck Lizza, the man who loved them both.

Airing tonight at 8 on HBO, filmmaker Harris Fishman's debut documentary follows the lives and careers of the Holidays, who went from being childhood friends in Maine to being married dancers who performed at Radio City Music Hall.

When actor William Holden gave Ron and Joy a leopard cub, a new act was born. Through the years, they acquired more exotic cats. And when they met Chuck in the mid-'80s, their act acquired a third party. So did their marriage.

That is all I'm going to say about “Cat Dancers” because the film is a strange, meandering journey best taken when you don't know where it's going. And even if you aren't surprised by the fates of Ron, Joy and Chuck, you might be very shocked by how much you care.

But you shouldn't be. Thanks to some of our more adventurous cable and network shows, we are falling for the kind of love stories that don't start with flowers and end with golden anniversaries. And these ill-fated couples make for very absorbing TV.

From newcomers like Sylar and Elle on “Heroes” to dysfunction veterans like Christopher and Adriana on “The Sopranos,” the best of these risky pairs make us a slave to their passions. And like the real-life Ron, Joy and Chuck, television's bad-news couples seduce us into rooting for them, even as they're going down in flames.

So in honor of a true love story that sounds like pulp fiction, here is a look at some doomed TV lovers and the unhappy endings that can feel like real tragedies.


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